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Historic Preservation Powers Yonkers Renaissance

The author has served as Yonkers City Council President since 2006 and was a founder of Historic Facades LLC, practicing law and monetizing historic tax benefits.

Hammers and chisels help to remove the old tacky vinyl siding from a downtown Yonkers streetscape reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s “Early Sunday Morning” as a new brick tower rises from behind in the Philpse Manor Historic District. Blocks away in the heart of Getty Square, a development team anchored by modernist Louis Cappelli starts its multimillion-dollar urban transformation with the renovation of the 1928 Genungs Department store building, which held the Yonkers Public Library for the two decades between the destruction of the Carnegie Library building and the adaptive reuse of the former Otis Elevator factory. Up the road, a wonderful couple has painstakingly restored a beautiful 1910 house and gardens designed by the renowned Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre Jr. that was advertised as a “teardown” by the Public Administrator and almost converted into a half-dozen McMansions before the community rallied to save its part of local history.

Throughout the city, the Yonkers renaissance is powered, not hindered, by historic preservation. While sentimentality does drive up market values, historic tax benefits also make it financially feasible. The most commonly used incentives are the federal and New York State historic tax credits and the historic façade conservation easement deduction – both are triggered by a listing on the National Register of Historic Places by the state Historic Preservation Office. The strongest protection of local landmarks is provided by the Yonkers Landmarks Preservation Board and the City Council. The National Register of Historic Places was created in 1966 in the aftermath of the shameful destruction of the old Penn Station and the movement spearheaded by Jackie Kennedy and hundreds of civic-minded New Yorkers to save Grand Central Station. Inclusion on the registry provides financial incentives and virtually no disincentives.

Many states have created state programs to enhance the federal programs, most notably Rhode Island, which recognized the economic benefits of Newport as a tourism destination. New York State recently implemented a state program .

While some local landmarks boards offer financial incentives, too, the Yonkers board offers protection of local historic treasures and guidance on how to make appropriate improvements. Despite evidence that shows property values increase in historic districts, some people fear that local restrictions will be costly in time and money. Even in downtown Yonkers where the financial incentives for adaptive reuse of historic properties are obvious and, in some cases necessary for development to proceed, there is a fear that listing on the national registry could lead to local landmarking that will somehow make it more difficult to develop. While that does not seem likely with Mayor Mike Spano and this City Council, it is an obstacle that needs to be overcome through education.

The motto of “Field of Dreams” a film about preserving old memories, was “build it and they will come,” the inspiration of many a forward-thinking developer. Perhaps the motto is more apt as “preserve it and they will come and stay."

The author has served as Yonkers City Council President since 2006 and was a founder of Historic Facades LLC practicing law and monetizing historic tax benefits.

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